The Pros and Cons of Parents in (or not in) Novels

Parents, or parent figures, are critical aspects in books. Their presence and corresponding parent-child relationships alone can make up entire premises. Likewise, the lack of a parent figure, whether they’re dead or simply out of the picture has a huge effect.

Their existence or non-existence is a heck of a decision. Neither option is bad, but one will definitely have a more desirable effect on your novel.

Here are a few pros and cons of both, having parents in blue and no parents in green:

Pros

  • The perspective gaps/differences in positive or negative parent-child relationships lend plenty of opportunities for conflict/tension.
  • Not having a parent allows for a parent figure to arise, along with a myriad of unique and potentially symbolic dynamics.
  • Parent-less teens have far more freedom to do crazy things.
  • Inspiring love or hate in their child creates a special fuel for the character’s actions, whether she’s aiming to make her mother proud, or he’s trying to tick his mother off by dating that girl. 
  • Consider well-known parent-child relationships, for example Gilmore Girls or Star Wars‘ Vader and Luke. What were the benefits?
  • Consider the opposite, books/movies/shows where the main characters lacked parents. What were the benefits?

Cons

  • Not having a parent can open the door for you to imbue several clichés into the psyche of your character. Be careful.
  • On the flip-side of that same coin, having a parent(s) can lead the way to very steroetypical relationships, say evil mother-in-laws or ‘understanding’ dads who always let their child do what they want. Be careful.
  • Parents are not special characters simply because they’re parents. They can be as unnecessary as the next character. Sometimes they’re just not important and trying to make them so puts a huge strain on your writing. If you want them alive, think of an alternative situation which removes them from the picture.
  • A parent-figure might not cut it. The strict-but-soft aunt with good intentions or the concerned teacher, etc. are all great, but you might really just need to have a dad or mom.
  • Consider the same books/movies/shows you did in the Pro section. What were the drawbacks?
  • Again, consider those well-known parent-child relationships. What were the drawbacks?

Remember: The ultimate purpose/value of every character is how much tension and conflict they offer to the story; your choice should grant you the most tension and conflict as possible.

Oh yeah, and if you’re a dad, Happy Fathers’ Day!

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